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Moving Pictures : A History of American Animation from Gertie to Pixar and Beyond - Darl Larsen

Moving Pictures

A History of American Animation from Gertie to Pixar and Beyond

By: Darl Larsen

Hardcover | 18 June 2024

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Take a deep dive into the history of cinematic animation in the United States with the book that Publishers Weekly says is "a lively chronicle of a perennially evolving medium."

Animated films started with simple sequential drawings photographed one at a time--little bits of comedic fluff to make amateur title scenes or surreal escapist sequences. Today, animation is a worldwide industry valued at nearly $300 billion and still growing in scope and popularity.

In Moving Pictures, Darl Larsen playfully lays out the history of American animation as it transitioned from vaudeville sub-feature to craftsman-like artistry to industrial diversion and, ultimately, to theatrical regulars on par with blockbusters. Larsen identifies and discusses the major figures, movements, and studios across the nearly 120 years of animation in the United States. Progressing chronologically, the book follows animation from stage performance through to its use as wartime propaganda, its seven-minute heyday and decamp to television, and finally the years of struggle as cartoons became feature films.

Covering everything from the generations preceding Mickey Mouse to recent releases such as Super Mario Bros., Moving Pictures is an essential read for movie fans and a nostalgic revisiting of some of America's favorite films.

Industry Reviews

Moving Pictures energetically weaves animation's legal, economic, and aesthetic histories together into a revelatory new study of the competing forces that have shaped the growth and institutionalization of the art form. Larsen's insightful, multi-faceted account widens the cast of players ordinarily found in animation's historical canon, and reveals the intricate interplay of business acumen, skill, and creativity that gave rise to and continue to sustain animation as a vibrant and essential dimension of American cinematic culture. Throughout, Larsen's rich engagement with primary sources brings the story and stakeholders of American theatrical animation to life as vividly as the characters on screen.

--Meredith A. Bak, associate professor, Rutgers University-Camden and author of "Playful Visions: Optical Toys and the Emergence of Media Culture"

As an animation veteran I consider myself a student of the craft. Reading Moving Pictures has increased my appreciation for my vocation and taught me a few things I hadn't known before. (Who knew that William Randolph Hearst had a connection to animation?) Focusing on American cinematic animation and couching his history in the social and economic upheavals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Darl Larsen invites a new perspective into the story of the animated film and cements the importance of the art form in American culture.

--Randy Haycock, animator and adjunct professor of animation, Art Center College of Design

Darl Larsen's Moving Pictures is a captivating exploration of American animation. With meticulous research and insightful storytelling, Larsen brings to life the visionaries and innovations that changed animation forever. A must-read for all animation lovers.

--Jared Hess, writer and director, "Napoleon Dynamite" (feature film and animated series) and Oscar-nominated animated short "Ninety-Five Senses"

In Darl Larsen's gripping account, over a century of American animation flickers before our eyes in a lively ensemble including the usual suspects--Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Felix the Cat, Betty Boop, Bambi--alongside such less familiar but still fascinating characters as the Dover Boys, Private Snafu, Colonel Heeza Liar, and Little Nemo (not the clownfish). Lively and compelling, Moving Pictures explores the industry and studios, the audiences, the technologies, the animators and their aesthetics, the characters and narratives that underlie the delightful art and craft of animation. I wouldn't have thought I could enjoy cartoons even more than I already do, but Larsen's big-picture exploration opens up their richly illustrious role in American culture.

--Randy Malamud, Regents' Professor of English, Georgia State University and author of "Reading Zoos", "The Importance of Elsewhere", and "Strange Bright Blooms"

James Blackton's 1906 Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is probably the first animated cartoon, but Winsor McCay's 1911 Little Nemo and 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur were arguably the first memorable ones. For decades, cartoons were made primarily for one medium: the cinema. Cartoon efforts during World War II boosted the industry. But by the late '60s, even with television providing a new venue for consumers, movie cartoons seemed on their last legs, which led to losing the market niche they'd enjoyed for over half a century. In the 1970s, they emerged into the age of the blockbuster cartoon feature. Larson's book tells the story of those earlier years. It was a sink or swim business from the start. Pre-Disney cartoons were fillers for movie theater programs, and they were produced quickly but had a thin profit margin. Then came Disney's 1928 Steamboat Willie, and after a period of fumbling, cartoons became an art form. Primarily for cinema buffs but interesting enough for general appeal. Larsen is immensely knowledgeable about the history of animation, and he writes lively prose.

-- "Library Journal"

Larsen presents a robust history of American theatrical animation from its newspaper comics strip roots to the present day.... Larsen energetically traces the remarkable adaptability of the medium from Disney's meteoric success, through the use of animation studios during World War II to produce public service films, to the advent of television, which undermined cinematic shorts yet offered an exciting new avenue for animators, and the growth of such powerhouse studios as Pixar and Dreamworks. The result is a lively chronicle of a perennially evolving medium.

-- "Publishers Weekly"

Larsen surveys the history of American animation in detail, specifically shorts and feature-length films made for the cinema (i.e., not those created for television or streaming). Starting with Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) and continuing all the way to 2023's The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Larsen recounts the animation industry's roots in newspaper comic strips and pays special attention to Walt Disney's contemporaries, especially oft-forgotten animators who were considered more successful than him at the time, or at least before Mickey Mouse and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs took off.... Academic in depth yet approachable, even occasionally humorous, this deep-dive is best suited to readers serious about researching animation and film, but even those with a passing interest in these subjects will find many worthwhile nuances and analyses here.

,

-- "Booklist"

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